Whose fault is the modern pin-up image?

I happened across a very interesting Slashdot posting. To quote liberally:

Consider this quote:

Naomi Wolf is much more blunt. In her book The Beauty Myth, she argues that this very standard of beauty set forth by the media is the primary mechanism of women's oppression by men. She discusses the "suffering caused by trying to meet the demands of the thin ideal"

This would be a great idea, except that laying this all at the feet of men is more than a bit unfair to me. To be sure, the ideal of feminine beauty that is espoused by male oriented media seems extreme -- until you compare it to the images in female oriented media. The male favored image requires surgery, unconscionable quantities of gym time, fasting, and a soupcon of digital touch up. But it's nothing compared to the gaunt images that women pay to consume.

Of course, can say that it's men who run the media companies that produce these images, and you'd be wrong on two counts. The "Cosmo Girl" was the creation of Helen Gurley Brown, after all. But Ms. Brown's sex is not at issue at all. The point is that women and men who run media companies end up doing much the same thing, because they're driven by the same economic forces. The Cosmo Girl wants to have it all. The reason she wants to have it all is because promoting the ideal of having it all pleases the advertisers; it involves not a little buying.

The reason that media female body image is so unrealistic is simple economics. If scarcity enhances value, then the unobtainable must be perceived as infinitely valuable. For the man, the companies inevitably take the general parameters indicating robust healthy child bearing capability and simply nip and tuck it to the edge of impossibility. You meet a woman who looks like that once in a blue moon, and she's definitely not going to be interested in you. Voila! the unobtainable.

For women, the companies produce an image that is starved (never mind this contradicts the male oriented images). A normal woman's homestatic processes will torture her into sumbission long before she reaches this stage. Voia! once more the unobtainable.

It's not the opression of women by men; at least if it is nobody's ever invited me to the meetings where this is arranged. It's not as personal as that. The problem is the antithesis of that. It's completely impersonal. it's economic and thus about systems and performance metrics and quarterly goals, not anything as personally satisfying as domination I'm afraid. And when the putatively immoral male sex is displaced in a position by the putatively superior female sex, there's bound to be very little difference in results. They're just cogs in the machine either way.

It's a fairly sterile point of view, but that works for me because my view of the matter is similarly sterile. The battle of the sexes in Western media usually a lot frothier, tending towards extremes such as the idea that women might be wired for domination by men, or that men might be obsoleted by reproductive technology (by the same idiot-savant line of reasoning one would arrive at the converse absurdity that women should be wary of oven and incubator technology).

I've always found extraordinary the idea that men would put forth signals towards extremes such as Anorexia. I would have expected what's claimed in the above comment—that most men would go for exaggerated lineaments of child-bearing function. But I'm also not sure how far one can take the notion that women are the driving force behind skinny chic. Competitiveness among women alone cannot explain, say, the flapper look, or more recently those Calvin Klein models, or even—to zoom way in—how Fiona Apple became a sensation by starring in a supposedly sexy video looking like a twelve year old foster child. (I sure as hell don't imagine for a moment that it was her high-school-burlesque singing that put her on the map). There must have been a critical mass of men going about saying "that's, like, the acme of hot, dude".

Any why do men not seem as keen on taking the ubiquitous washboard abs in the media as excuse for destructive auto-sculpture? Surely there is more to the overall mechanism of destructive self-image than evil media. Surely what you see in the media is little more than reaction to deeper forces.

It all just goes to reinforce that Economics is an accumulation of small, rational tendencies that in the large seem to drive the most irrational trends.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia